“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” – Archilochus
Jim Collins is one of the best business thinkers alive. He wrote classics such as Built to Last and Good to Great. One of his most inspiring ideas is the Hedgehog Concept. We can use it to discover our dream job and to become successful at it.
If you could choose: Would you rather be a hedgehog or a fox?
A lot of people will answer this question with "fox". They are faster, more elegant and sleek animals. They seem like the smart choice. But you might underestimate the hedgehog.
This ancient Greek parable explains the super power of the hedgehog:
A fox is walking through the forest when it suddenly sees a hedgehog. The hedgehog seems like an easy pray, and the fox takes its opportunity to catch it. It tries out different strategies to attack the animal: it sneaks, pounces, races and plays dead. But every time, the fox gets defeated, being hurt by the spines.
The hedgehog has a secret weapon. It knows one thing perfectly: how to defend itself.
What we can learn from the hedgehog
We can adapt this parable to humans. In his book The Hedgehog and the Fox philosopher Isaiah Berlin argues that there are two kinds of people in the world – foxes and hedgehogs. Foxes pursue many goals and interests at the same time. They are unfocused and will not achieve much in the long run. Hedgehogs are slow and steady. Unlike the fox, they can simplify the world and focus on one vision. This principle guides everything they do and helps them succeed against all odds.
Business mind Jim Collins evolved this idea in his book Good to Great. He believes that businesses are more likely to succeed if they focus on one thing and do it well. This way they can beat their competition and become the number one in their business.
He argues that successful companies like Apple or Microsoft were built by hedgehogs. Because of their hedgehog nature, they drove the business forward.
How to find your hedgehog
Being a hedgehog is not something that you are born with. It is about the perspective you have on your business or your career. So if you want to become one, you need to change your view.
Some simple signs that you have not become a hedgehog yet: You are unhappy with the work that you are doing. You feel like you do not know what you are working for. Or you have lost your motivation for your job. If this is the case, you can start with a simple exercise to find your hedgehog.
Ask yourself these three questions:
- What do I love to do?
- What am I good at?
- What will I get paid for?
Where these three things meet, you will find your hedgehog.
Coaching Exercise: What is your inner hedgehog?
This exercise might seem very abstract in the first moment. Let’s break it down to a more approachable level. Take some time and sit down with pen and paper.
Start with the things you love. Write down a list of activities that you love doing so much you would pay to do them. Something that makes you feel excited to wake up every morning and that you want to get better at every day.
Next, you should think about what you are great at. Something that others have always pointed out to you as a quality. Something that you are not merely competent but really good at. Write it down.
In the last step, the money aspect comes in. After all, you want to get paid for what you are working on every day. Write down a list of tasks that you can get paid for.
Once you have these three lists, see where they meet. You might feel like there is no spot where all three align. Often we become very skeptical about which activities we actually can get paid for.
Do not try to think in the boundaries of what is “realistic”. If you want to be a hedgehog, you need to dream big and strike for something that seems impossible. Only when we start imagining, do we find a way to our dream job.
That is the power of the hedgehog.
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